Lost amid the criticism of the Bears' defense have been the offensive failures of the past two games.
The two worst offensive performances of the season, in terms of points and yards, have come in back-to-back losses to the Titans (21-14) and the Packers (37-3). The Bears had just 243 total yards vs. the Titans and 234 against the Packers. The Bears averaged 333.6 yards in their first eight games.
In the last two games, the Bears' offense has converted just five of 26 third-down opportunities (19.2 percent) after converting 42.4 percent of their third downs in the first eight games.
But Sunday's game at St. Louis against the 2-8 Rams provides an ideal bounce-back opportunity for the 5-5 Bears, considering the hosts are dead-last in the NFL in yards per pass play and points allowed, and 30th in total yards allowed.
"(We) just have to get back to execution," said quarterback Kyle Orton, whose sprained right ankle did not limit him in Wednesday's practice but is still not quite 100 percent. "We've talked about it all year. We play well when we execute and know what we're doing. This week we're focusing on ourselves. That's what we're going to do as an offense, go back to basics and work on execution."
The Bears' third-down failures have often occurred inside their 20-yard line, forcing the defense to play much of the game on a shorter field. The offense has converted just one of 11 third-down opportunities (9 percent) from inside its 20 in the past two games.
"We definitely work on it," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We start that on Wednesday and continue working on it all the way through the week. It's such a crucial part, and we were doing it very well early in the year. The last couple weeks we haven't done very well. And when you're not converting, you're giving the ball back and it takes away your number of snaps."
Turner said the Bears will also focus on getting the ball to the wide receivers, who have caught a total of just nine passes in the past two weeks. The ground game has been mediocre the past two weeks with 161 yards on 44 carries for a 3.7-yard average, but the Bears fell so far back so early against the Packers that running the ball was no longer a viable option.
"We can do everything better," center Olin Kreutz said. "So we're going to work on everything, and hopefully we'll improve Sunday."
Clearly the mindset that the Bears developed while averaging 28 points through the first eight games has taken a hit. But Turner is confident he has the right formula for getting the swagger back on offense.
"Prepare the right way, believe in what you do, and believe in yourselves," Turner said. "We know we've done it. We've done it against good defenses this year. We've put points on the board against good teams, and we know we can do it. So it's just a matter of going out, relaxing and focusing.
"That's what I talked to the team about [Wednesday] – focus on yourselves. [Think] 'I've got a job to do. I've got to do my job better.' We all have to go out and prepare, hit the field on Sunday [with] great preparation, be relaxed and just let it go. Go out there and fly around and have fun."
If the Bears can't have a good time against a Rams defense that allows an average of 31.7 points per game, they just don't know how to have fun.
NOTES & QUOTES
"It's tough," he said. "Not only [on] myself, but to the fans and to the team. I set a high standard not only for myself, but for outsiders that I'm that guy that's going to take five or six returns to the house, and I haven't taken [any]. I don't even like going outside now. The return game was basically my success in football, and now that it's not there, it's tough [not] being that player that everybody knew about it."
Hester's combined total of five return touchdowns (two kickoffs, three punts) as a rookie in 2006 established an NFL record, which he eclipsed last season with six (two kickoffs, four punts). But he hasn't come close to going the distance even once this year, his first as a starting wide receiver.
Part of the problem, according to Hester, is that he hasn't been given enough opportunities by his blockers on the return teams this season.
"I could sit here and say it's my fault, but there are 11 guys out there on the field," Hester said. "I'm not the only one out there. I know at the end of the day I get blamed for the return game. If that's what they want to say because I've got the ball in my hand, but there are 11 guys on the field."
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Hester's struggles in the return game have not affected his play on offense, although he had just one catch for seven yards last week.
"He has a lot of pride, as much as anyone I've ever been around, and when he's not successful it bothers him," Turner said. "But he's also very strong mentally, and he'll come back and play the right way. It hasn't affected him as far as dropping passes or mental errors or things like that, where you say, 'Well, something's on his mind.' I haven't seen that at all." …
Quarterback Kyle Orton won't ever be confused with Donovan McNabb when it comes to running ability, but he should be much more mobile Sunday than he was against the Packers in his first game back since suffering a sprained right ankle on Nov. 2.
Turner said there were some plays last week where Orton's still-healing ankle may have affected him.
"Especially early, he was kind of feeling his way on it," Turner said. "Once he got hit a couple times, he realized, 'Hey, I'm OK.' It was hard because he didn't practice a whole lot, and he wasn't 100 percent. But that's not an excuse. He did some good things, and we as an offense and all of us should have, could have, done better."
If Wednesday's practice on artificial turf inside the Walter Payton Center was any indication, Orton will be better this week.
"He looked really good [Wednesday]," Turner said. "He looked fine – way, way, way ahead of where he was at any time last week." …
Bears wide receivers caught just four passes against the Packers, and only one was for more than nine yards, giving them a two-week total of nine receptions. A week earlier in the 21-14 loss to the Titans, wide receivers caught just five passes from Rex Grossman.
"Other teams covered us," head coach Lovie Smith said. "It's kind of as simple as that. We haven't been able to get them the ball. If you look at our receiver play throughout, it's been pretty good. You go through spells where you are not as productive as you would like. But in the big picture, we have gotten a lot of production from our receivers."
Rashied Davis, the Bears' most productive wide receiver, is 60th in the NFL with 369 yards and 69th with 29 catches. Hester is 73rd in the league with 318 yards and 85th with 26 catches.
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